Monday, 19 March 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #25

The final instalment? Hmm, maybe. For now, anyway. Depends on demand and right now there doesn't appear to be very much of it.

In 2004, 'Around The Sun' was released. This was R.E.M. at their absolute nadir. Even the band decried it as a poor record some years later. Peter Buck called it "unlistenable... It sounds like what it is - a bunch of people that are so bored with the material, they can't stand it anymore." This, however, did not mean R.E.M. were no longer an exciting live band. On the contrary, it was during the subsequent tour in 2005 that the band's first official live album was recorded. Perhaps another hint at their lack of creativity around this time was that record's title: 'Live'. Wow.

In the summer of 2005, R.E.M. were one of the headliner's at the 20th anniversary of Germany's biggest rock festival Rock am Ring in Nürburg. The set is very different from that eventually released on 'Live' (which was recorded in Dublin some four months earlier). The Outsiders featured on 'Around The Sun' and is pretty typical of the rest of the album in that it's a mid-tempo plodder that is largely forgettable. It did, however, feature a turn from rapper Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest fame). This was not the first time R.E.M. had roped in assistance from the hip hop community - KRS-One appeared on the execrable Radio Song on 'Out Of Time'. Is The Outsiders a better song than that? Hmm, maybe, and this live take certainly beats the crap out of the studio version. Out go those awfully dull keyboards and, in their place, a lovely swampy guitar sound. Stipe does the rap himself.

Animal was one of two new songs that appeared on a greatest hits album called 'In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003' the autumn before 'Around The Sun' came out. It's a rather gnarly minor-key rocker that I actually rather like. Considering it came between the double-travesty of 'Reveal' and 'Around The Sun' it stands out as one of their best songs of the era. Live it sounds even rockier, shorn of some of the electronic pizzazz that graced the studio version.

It's worth mentioning that while 'Live' was R.E.M.'s first official live album, 1996's 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi', their last record with Bill Berry, was largely recorded live during soundchecks and concerts. I think 'New Adventures' was the first R.E.M. record to suffer from excess length, but that aside, I've always really liked it. Michael Stipe rates it as his favourite R.E.M. album, and Mike Mills thinks it's their third best, with only 'Murmur' and 'Automatic For The People' above it. My favourite track from 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' was, and still is, Leave. It's a bit of an epic and the longest song the band ever recorded. For whatever reason, it was hardly ever played live. The album version consists of an instrumental version played during a soundcheck with Stipe's vocal added later in the studio. Stipe sang snippets of the song acapella a few times during the 'Up' tour in 1999, but it wasn't until 2005 that Leave finally made it into the band's live set, aired about 18 times in all. Then it was never played again. It didn't make it onto 'Live' so unless you have a bootleg of one of those shows, you'll never have heard it. Until now! Here they are performing Leave in Germany. A cracking rendition only slightly marred in parts by Bill Rieflin's over-enthusiastic drumming.

And on that note, I'm going to Leave it at that (arf!). I haven't decided if I'm going to continue this series any further, though it's unlikely to be honest. If I do, it'll be a while. Don't hold your breath.

Friday, 16 March 2018

What's the Deal, Kim? #2

Two very contrasing songs today. Kim Deal has written some extraordinary songs in her career. She pretty much defines the entire alternative rock movement, in both sound and attitude. By attitude, I mean her total independence, her don't-give-a-fuck-about-hit-records belief. She's stayed true to herself. That doesn't mean it's all been about crunchy guitars and feedback. She has written some absolutely beautiful songs too, ones that many balladeers would give arms and legs for.

A few years ago, shortly before Kim reformed the 'Last Splash'-era Breeders, she released a series of lo-fi 7" singles. One of them was the most touching song in her entire catalogue. Are You Mine? is about her mother. She suffers from alzheimers. It affects her memory and often greets her children with the question "Are you mine?" Jeez, I never thought a Kim Deal song would bring tears to the eyes, but this one...

How do you follow that? Well, you can't. So here's a song about having sex with a man with a very large penis. This was the first song Kim wrote for Pixies. Despite being my favourite band and therefore immune from any criticism whatsoever, I can't help but think Kim should have been allowed to contribute more. Gigantic remains one of the band's best known songs. Apple remade the song for one of their ad campaigns a few years ago. I cannot believe they didn't bother to find out what the song was about! I've always thought Apple and the people who buy their overpriced products were all utter cocks though, so maybe it's appropriate...

This was recorded in Holland in 1988. Someone in the You Tube comments section wrote: "Sweaty 1980s Kim Deal - ah, they don't make them like her any more." How right you are!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

What's the Deal, Kim?

The new Breeders album 'All Nerve' is AMAZING! Seriously. It's rather dark and brooding, more like their debut 'Pod' than 'Last Splash'. It takes two or three listens to really 'get' some of the tracks, but once you're fully immersed in its greatness you float in a sea of awesome. Yeah, I'm a fanboy, but anyone who doesn't agree with me that Kim Deal is the coolest fucking person on the planet is just wrong and doesn't deserve to have ears. In fact, Kim and Kelley are the coolest twins on the planet.

Here's proof. Two songs from the new album performed live on French TV. Exquisite, certainly. Josephine Wiggs oozes understated coolness at stage right, and Jim MacPherson looks not unlike Guy Garvey. Imagine, Guy Garvey playing drums. For the Breeders.

My copy of 'All Nerve' on orange vinyl is my new prized and favourite possession. In July, a week before my birthday, we're off to see The Breeders at their sold out show in Bristol. I'll probably post a few more Kim-related things before then. I was thinking of doing a Genius of Kim Deal series, but I've vowed not to commit myself to series any more (other than the R.E.M. one which may draw to a close soon), so I'll just stick to some random posts.

In the meantime, here's a great clip from 1993 around the release of 'Last Splash'. Not only do the band play live, but Conan O'Brien interviews them too, which is something he rarely ever did with the bands on his show. Kelley's string breaks during the performance which fucks things up somewhat - even Kim misses her part, but both keep smiling. Then afterwards, Josephine jumps on Conan and gives him a "hickey" (UK trans: lovebite).

Monday, 12 March 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #24

This week we return to Utrecht in 1987 and the other two missing cover versions from the show that was issued officially as part of the 25th Anniversary edition of 'Document'. If you remember, the band played four covers during the set, but these were omitted from the 'Document' discs. They did, however, include three songs I never had on my bootleg, entitled 'A Bucketful Of Worksongs'.  famvid, who commented on my original post - and who claims to have been at the show itself, mentioned these three songs were not broadcast on Dutch radio which is probably why they were missing from my bootleg. So combining these official and unofficial sources I now have the complete show!

The final pieces of the jigsaw come from my bootleg. Strange, as you all know, featured on 'Document' and was a version of the early song by Wire, featuring on their seminal debut album 'Pink Flag'. Here Stipe refrains from delivering his full sneering vocal as on the album, opting instead for something more casual, almost spoken rather than sung.

Funtime is the Iggy Pop song. R.E.M. later recorded it in the studio and released it as the b-side to Get Up in the States. The song was played extensively the previous year on the Pageantry Tour, but only about half a dozen times on the Work Tour, just the once during the Green Tour in 1989 and twice in 1992 before retiring it from the set for good. Here, it sounds as if Stipe is reluctant to end the song, forcing his bandmates to play on for a final verse despite them thinking they'd finished!

Finally, you may well be aware that for the final encore, Stipe and Buck performed alone. They did achingly beautiful versions of Time After Time and So. Central Rain. As a segue between the two, Stipe sang a snippet of Peter Gabriel's Red Rain. The full three-song medley appeared on the b-side of Finest Worksong as Time After Time Etc. [live], but the 'Document' reissue only included the latter of the three tracks. So if you have said 'Document' anniversary edition and want the complete show (and providing you grabbed the two songs I posted back here), here's what you need to do:

Drop Superman between Fall On Me and Just A Touch; place Strange and Funtime either side of Disturbance At The Heron House - that's the first encore sorted; Harpers begins the second encore (so that goes just before Moral Kiosk); and finally insert Time After Time/Red Rain (which I'm including here as a bonus for completion's sake) immediately before So. Central Rain. Got that?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Korea Opportunities (or The Coming Of Age)

There's something about your youngest child turning 18 that makes you feel a touch of sadness. That sadness is tempered somewhat by the prospect of them leaving home soon so you can start getting your life back, mind. (Only joking, of course!) And so it is that TheDoopster comes of age today. Now, our youngest is something of an enigma. I mean, I've lived with her, raised her for 18 years and quite frankly I'm still buggered if I can work her out!

One of her most baffling quirks is her love of K-Pop. Now, for the uninitiated, K-Pop is the (lazy) all-encompassing term for pop music from South Korea. Among the top K-Pop acts are the likes of BTS, EXO, Blackpink and GOT7, which I'm sure you're all familiar with, right? But what about proper music? You know, bands who actually play rather than dance like pre-programmed machines? I wanted to give TheDoopster the gift of music on her special day and thought it might be a nice touch to find a decent Korean band who would fit nicely on these pages.

Bloody hell, it was hard! 95% of Korean music outside of the boy/girl pop bands all seems to be electronic. Lots of plinky-plonky computers and synths, barely a guitar in sight. I persevered and did eventually find a couple of punk bands (one of them have recently released their debut album - it lasts for 10 minutes!) but that isn't really Doopster's bag. After much endeavour, I was on the verge of giving up. And then, at the eleventh hour, I found this:

Look And Listen - South Korea's answer to Shonen Knife? Perhaps. No bad thing, certainly, and waaay better than everything else I found.

Happy 18th Birthday Doopster. Hope this meets with your approval. If not, I hope you appreciate the effort. I put my heart and Seoul into this for you...

(and if anyone's wondering - the graphic at the top of the post translates (I think/hope) as 'Happy Eighteenth Birthday' in Korean.)

Saturday, 3 March 2018

A song for... March

OK, so this one could have waited for a few months, but truth is there are far more songs about September than there are about March, so I decided to use this one now. New Model Army's recent output has been very, very good indeed. March In September is taken from their 2013 album 'Between Dog And Wolf', a particularly good record.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

St David's Day

March 1st is St. Davids Day. I usually mark it with a Welsh-themed post and this year is no exception, but I've gone for something a little different. Back over the Christmas period, BBC Radio Wales aired a documentary about John Peel's links to the Welsh music scene. It's a fascinating insight into the wider Welsh scene from the 60s onwards with lots of talking heads - Andrea Lewis (Darling Buds), John Griffiths (Llwybr Llaethog), Rhys Mwyn (Yr Anrefn) and Gruff Rhys, who although he's speaking in English is almost impossible to understand. The West Wales accent can be indecipherable...

It's here you can also find out the link between John Peel and kids TV hero Fireman Sam! You'll also learn which 70s band holds Peel responsible for the success of the song they most despise. And then there's the birthday surprise in one of Peel's last broadcasts. Some great moments. Enjoy.

Monday, 26 February 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #23

A year after their first ever show, R.E.M. were fast becoming one of Athens' favourite bands. Not only that, but they had played numerous shows around the southern states of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. In a couple of months they would play dates in New York with Gang Of Four, so it's safe to say their stock was rising at some rate. But on 10th April 1981, they were back at one of their favourite hometown venues - Tyrone's.

This show has graced many bootlegs. The one I have is a single vinyl record called 'So Much Younger Then', one of the most highly-rated recordings of those early shows. While later boots would include the full set, this one only includes some of it, omitting many of the songs the band would later record in the studio (Radio Free Europe, Pretty Persuasion, Rockville, etc). What we do get, however, is a wonderful insight into those early gigs and some of the band's earliest material. The sound quality is excellent too.

Body Count was a popular song in those early days. It also could be the band's first to have a political subtext - it references Vietnam and "dancing off to war"; "military metaphors are metaphors no more" etc. It's a song that I think had promise, but it never made it onto tape in the studio. Wait, on the other hand, was demoed. It's one of the band's poppiest early moments, like the Stand of its day perhaps? Here, Michael Stipe's sisters Lynda and Cyndy join the band to yell "WAIT!" in the choruses.

Mystery To Me is a fine example of R.E.M.'s fast, garagey sound of the early years. While they didn't seem to have a regular set-closer, this one did end a few shows around this time. On this occasion, the band returned to the stage for a one-song encore - White Tornado. It's unclear if Stipe joined his bandmates onstage.

Later in the week, the band would enter Mitch Easter's Drive-In Studio in North Carolina to lay down their first demo. It yielded the tracks that would, in remixed form, make up their first single later in the year. Maybe, if you ask really nicely, I'll post something from this demo tape. But only if you're good.

Friday, 23 February 2018

New stuff wot sounds like old stuff #5

OK, one more of these. Couldn't resist this one. Boy Azooga come from Cardiff and will hopefully become as synonymous with Wales as Tom Jones, sheep and cheese on toast! They make a terrific noise, described by their label Heavenly as "an ensemble that swings smoothly from filmic instrumentals to a churning, rave-tinged rock that hints at both Can and their progeny in Happy Mondays."

Frontman Davey Newington comes from a very musical family - his grandfather was a jazz drummer and his parents both played in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. He has also been part of Charlotte Church's band (as drummer) as well as numerous jazz bands and orchestras. Talented fella then.

Boy Azooga's debut album '1, 2, Kung Fu!' is due out in June, but the two singles that have emerged have already made it one of the most hotly anticipated records of the year. Here's the current song - it's short but it packs a punch. The guy at the very end of the video, by the way, is one Kliph Scurlock, former drummer with the Flaming Lips and now a Cardiff resident.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The hidden world of R.E.M. #22

I never had satellite or cable TV growing up - still don't now, and never will - so I didn't get to see much in the way of MTV or VH1. The latter ran a series called Storytellers which involved getting an act in to play a live set, but between songs telling the stories of how the songs came into being. Hence the title of the show - clever, eh? I've heard a few bootlegs over the years and I have the Bowie one which I ought to post a bit of sometime (though I did post a track from it in last year's Bowie Week).

Recently I acquired a copy of the R.E.M. show recorded in 1998, the very day 'Up' was released in Europe. It's a gem. Some wonderful stories that display the band's humour - particularly Michael Stipe's - and gave an insight into the band's writing processes. So today, here's a couple of highlights. Ironically, I'm starting off with one that isn't prefaced by a story. I'm Not Over You appeared on 'Up' as a hidden track at the end of Diminished. Michael Stipe started playing it solo, accompanying himself on guitar, during the subsequent tour. He would take to the stage at the start of the encore and nervously strum the first few chords as the crowd fell silent. His playing was tentative and his singing delicate - he was outside his comfort zone for sure. Here he has a bit of accompaniment from the band, which now included Joey Waronker (on drums), Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow on guitars, keyboards, percussion etc.

There's no doubt that, while 'Up' spooked some fans out with its experimental approach post-Berry, and by it being a bit too long, it certainly did contain a couple of wonderful, wonderful moments. One such moment came in the form of At My Most Beautiful, which remains one of the band's greatest songs. Here, Stipe tells how it was a deliberate attempt to pay tribute to The Beach Boys and that it was his present to his bandmates. Mike Mills goes on to explain how the music came together in the studio before Stipe asks Mills, McCaughey and Stringfellow to perform the chorus backing vocals a capella. The result will make the hairs on the back of your neck stick up.

To round off, another solo effort. This time, Mike Mills regales us with the story of how he wrote (Don't Go Back To) Rockville before delivering an abridged, yet astonishing, version of the song at the piano. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Mike Mills - DO A SOLO RECORD, DAMMIT!

And here's a clip from the show: